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Who’s the Party? Episode XXXIII

- August 25, 2012

Here is an interesting Politico article about Paul Ryan’s rise to prominence in the GOP. The article is much stronger on reporting than analysis, unfortunately. The journalists who wrote it declare that “the establishment has withered and power has flowed away from party bosses to new media forces.” These “new media forces” turn out to be leading figures at The Wall Street Journal editorial page,the Weekly Standard, the National Review and the Heritage Foundation. Inevitably, William Kristol is mentioned and quoted several times.

Are any of these people “new media”, new to the GOP or really new anything? More broadly, since when are these guys NOT part of the Republican establishment? Twenty years ago the Wall Street journal editorial page, the National Review and the Heritage Foundation were already quite prominent in the GOP and had been for many years. Twenty years ago the Weekly Standard did not yet exist, but William Kristol was already Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. At one time William F. Buckley’s National Review was an insurgent anti-establishment force in the GOP, but that was quite a long time ago.

Some political scientists have been trying to promote a broader understanding of party elites , but evidently we still have some work to do. If we accept the Politico reporters’ claims that these actors played more of a role in Ryan’s ascension than e.g. GOP fundraisers or Governors, then the most we could say is that they were the element of the Republican establishment that did the most for him.

It’s nothing new for political players to combine journalism with kingmaking. The party press of the 19th Century is well-known. Slightly more recently, William Randolph Hearst had more than a little to do with Alf Landon’s nomination by the Republican National Convention in 1936, and he was a recent convert to the GOP at the time, unlike the players mentioned in the Politico article. Henry Luce’s Time was, along with the New York Herald Tribune, an important factor in Wendell Willkie’s nomination by the GOP in 1940. Let’s not even talk about the role of the Chicago Tribune in Illinois Republican politics during the time of Col. McCormick. This is all as American as apple pie. Party “establishments” are not comprised of just Governors, state chairman and people who have the word “party” on their business cards AND NEVER HAVE BEEN. Political reporters, of all people, should know that.